Morning Digest: Feb. 3, 2014

Wildstein claims Christie knew about lane closures, suggest evidence exists

The former Port Authority official accused of shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge says Gov. Chris Christie knew about the controversial lane closures when they were happening, according to published reports.

In a letter released by his lawyer, David Wildstein described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago, according to a report in The New York Times.

Christie’s office responded Friday evening to claims from a former Port Authority official that the governor knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closings when they were happening.

In the response to a story from The New York Times, Christie’s office says a letter from a former Port Authority official that suggests the governor knew more about the controversial lane closures than he originally admitted, merely “confirms what the governor has said all along.”

“Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with,” Christie’s office said in a statement. “As the governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




Documents in New Jersey bridge Scandal Set to Start Pouring In

For most people attending the Super Bowl on Sunday, the most important outcome on their minds was that of the clash between teams on the playing field.

But Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who watched the game from the comfort of a luxury box at MetLife Stadium, most likely had his thoughts on the outcome of a more personal test: that of the state and federal investigations into the conduct of his administration.

On Monday, the first of what are most likely thousands of pages of documents subpoenaed by the State Legislature from prominent members of the Christie administration were to be turned over to investigators.

But lawyers for many of those subpoenaed have been granted extensions. Even after all the documents are compiled, investigators will have to analyze them, which could take weeks.

“This will not happen as quickly as people anticipate,” said State Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat and a chairwoman of the joint legislative committee leading the investigation.

Mr. Christie steadfastly denied for months that his administration had anything to do with matter, but emails made public in January showed that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had called for “some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” the borough at the New Jersey end of the bridge that was turned into a virtual parking lot after two access lanes were closed for four days. (Santora/The New York Times) 




Most seek more time in New Jersey traffic jam subpoenas

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Twenty people and organizations close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are due to turn over emails, text messages and other documents involving an apparent vindictive plot to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge, though almost all the subpoena recipients have requested more time.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chairman of the joint legislative panel leading the investigation told The Associated Press that some extensions of Monday’s deadline were granted. The requests of others who asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were also being considered. (Associated Press)




Christie staffer resigns amid GWB probe

A member of Governor Christie’s chief of staff’s office who was involved in a sensitive email chain concerning the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge quietly resigned on Friday, just days before she was to deliver documents to a legislative committee investigating the governor’s role in the traffic mess in Fort Lee last September.

The staffer, Christina Genovese Renna, who has been subpoenaed by the committee, confirmed in a statement released Sunday by her lawyer, Henry Klingeman, that she had resigned.

“I left my position in the governor’s office effective Friday, January 31,” Renna’s statement said. “This reflects a decision I have been considering since shortly after the election. I have spent almost four years working hard for a governor I continue to respect and admire. The transition from term one to term two is a natural time to pursue an opportunity in the private sector.”

The statement was released just an hour before kickoff in Super Bowl XLVIII, which was to have been a moment of triumph for the governor, one in which he could have basked in a rosy national glow if not for the exploding GWB controversy. (Norman and Yellin/The Record) 




Top Republicans say they stand by Christie

High-profile Republicans went on the defensive Sunday to support Governor Christie as he deals with the escalating scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal all appeared on morning news shows to defend Christie in both his role as governor and as the leader of the Republican Governor’s Association.

On “Face the Nation,” Giuliani attacked the credibility of a former Christie ally who alleges the governor knew about the lane closures are they were happening in September. In a letter Friday, an attorney for David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official, said “evidence exists” that Christie knew. The letter did not say what that evidence is.

Giuliani noted that Wildstein, who is under investigation, needs someone to pay his legal bills and is seeking immunity. “The governor has denied it,” Giuliani said. “There’s no evidence to suggest he’s not telling the truth.”

Giuliani also went on to say that John Wisniewski, the Democratic Assemblyman and chairman the legislative committee investigating the bridge scandal, seems to have made up his mind already that Christie is lying. He said Wisniewski has an ulterior motivate as a “guy who’d like to be governor” and should not be the one investigating the governor.

Wisniewski was also making the rounds on Sunday. Speaking on “Face the Nation,” he denied accusations he has preconceived notions about the case, though he said he is “skeptical” about the timeline the governor has presented about what he knew and when he knew it. Christie has said he knew nothing about the closures until it was reported in the press. (Yellin/The Record)   



Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after a low-key initial response to Friday’s explosive allegations about his involvement in a bridge-closing scandal, mounted an aggressive defense late Saturday afternoon, attacking The New York Times and a former political ally in an email to friends and allies obtained by POLITICO.

“Bottom line — David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy. (Allen and Haberman/Politico)




Were Hoboken and Other New Jersey Shortchanged on Sandy Aid?

An investigation into the data raises more questions than answers.

An in-depth analysis by NJ Spotlight in collaboration with WNYC/NJ Public Radio has discovered multiple irregularities in how funds have been allocated through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Energy Allocation Initiative — the program at the heart of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations against the Christie administration.

An examination of the fund shows that despite a scoring system that awarded various towns and cities points for eligibility based on factors such as population size, population density, and previous FEMA claims, Hoboken has been awarded the same amount — $142,080 — as much smaller towns like Mt. Arlington and Old Tappan, neither of which experienced much damage from Sandy or previous storms.

And Hoboken was awarded far less than Nutley, which was allocated $556,000, despite being relatively unscathed by the storm.

Responding to inquiries from NJ Spotlight, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said a proper, objective process was followed in the scoring and ranking of these applications, and that it’s ongoing, so some of these awards might still be adjusted before they’re finalized and checks are cut. He said it’s unfair to draw conclusions from the data at this point. But many details about the behind-the-scenes process remain unclear, and the problems seem to extend beyond simply a few errant numbers.

This investigation’s findings could lend credence to Zimmer’s claim that the Christie administration withheld Sandy aid from her city because she didn’t support a redevelopment project. Hoboken had submitted a $1.3 million proposal to purchase a dozen backup generators for use throughout the city, but it was awarded only about one tenth of what it asked for. (Gurian/NJSpotlight) 




Chris Christie bridge scandal doesn’t rest for Super Bowl; subpoenaed documents due today

EAST RUTHERFORD — Gov. Chris Christie watched his state host football’s biggest game Sunday night from the privacy of a MetLife Stadium luxury box filled with his family and friends — including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

But the George Washington Bridge scandalsurrounding his administration didn’t break for Super Bowl Sunday.

Nor will it today.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that an aide to the Republican governor — and one of the 18 people subpoenaed by a legislative committee investigating the controversy — has quit.

Christina Genovese Renna, director of departmental relations in the governor’s office, left state government Friday, according to the report.

Still, Christie also got good news Sunday. A series of top Republicans — Giuliani chief among them — came to the governor’s defense two days after new allegations emerged. (Portnoy and Johnson/Star-Ledger) 




Chris Christie to speak at CPAC a year after snub

NEWARK — A year after being denied a speaking spot at one of the largest annual gatherings of conservatives, Gov. Chris Christie will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference next month, according to a report on Yahoo News. 

The gathering is a prime opportunity for Republican presidential hopefuls to pitch their credentials to the party. With Christie mired in scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, as well as allegations hewithheld Sandy recovery money to pressure a local mayor into approving a redevelopment project, the decision to invite Christie is a sign of support in his party.

“We are very excited to announce that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will speak at CPAC 2014,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas told Yahoo News. “This will be the year that conservatives begin pulling the nation back from the brink of Barack Obama’s disaster with a movement that inspires, unites, and discovers new solutions to our current challenges.”

Last year Christie was reportedly snubbed for not “having an all-star year.” Among his sins were trashing Republican members of Congress who were holding up Sandy recovery aid and embracing President Obama in the wake of the storm. (Giambusso/Star-Ledger) 




From the Back Room


Christie booed at Times Square Super owl Rally

Gov. Chris Christie hardly received a hero’s welcome at a pre-Super Bowl rally in Times Square this afternoon, according to our sister website Politicker.

Take a look at the story here. (PolitickerNJ)


Will this finally be McKeon’s chance to shine?

If the Assembly draws up articles of impeachment against Gov. Chris Christie, look for the emergence of another longtime player at the epicenter of the drama.

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27), West Orange, just took over the chairmanship of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Until this year, McKeon had been consigned to the wilderness of Trenton following his participation in a coup against Democratic Party leadership.

Deposed from his beloved chairmanship of the Assembly Environmental Committee, McKeon clawed his way back to power with the ascent to the speakership of Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32).

Prieto did not want to get rid of Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-29), Newark, who has occupied the throne of the environmental committee since McKeon’s meltdown.

So he gave the assemblyman the judiciary chairmanship, where now McKeon, a longtime district-mate of ageless state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27), could have a chance to make a name for himself… (PolitickerNJ)



Christie Mess Does Major Damage to Education Reform Efforts

School choice may survive on life support; vouchers, extended days, and seniority-blind layoffs are pretty much dead on the table. 

How can we calibrate the damage done to education reform in New Jersey these past few weeks?

Quick recap: First, Gov. Chris Christie’s political leverage takes a big hit as he runs heads first into the Bridgegate imbroglio. On Saturday national papers were plastered with the Nixonian allegation that “His Fleeceness” knew about the Fort Lee lane closures while they were happening.

Christie-haters, including those who yearn for a return to the glory days of charter-free school districts and profligate school-funding formulas, buzz with glee.

Next, there’s Newark, New Jersey’s hotbed for educational equity, which recently lost ardent school reformer Cory Booker to the logjam that is Washington, D.C. On Tuesday night at First Avenue School, state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson walked off the stage while 500 enraged residents and school employees jeered at her “One Newark” plan, which involves expanding school choice and charter schools, and consolidating traditional schools with declining enrollment.

Meanwhile, Newark mayoral-frontrunner Ras Baraka has found a handy wedge issue to differentiate himself from more moderate candidates. Baraka, who doubles as principal of Newark Central High School and South Ward Councilman (he’s on leave from his administrative duties while he campaigns), is blazingly antireform and has compared efforts to upgrade Newark’s bleak school system to “the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

There’s no point in sugar-coating the damage done to Garden State efforts to reform a public school system that funnels children into school districts based on parental wealth. (Waters/NJSpotlight)  

Morning Digest: Feb. 3, 2014